Summer reading list

I want to share my findings as it may be relevant to many of you. I was so much surprised that CERN Library actually hosts much more topics than science and engineering, and somehow by chance I found out many great subscriptions from Safari Books online concerning film making.

I was particularly interested in colour grading techniques in film making and here is list of nice books I found, just to give you an example. They all shall be fully accessible to all holders of CERN accounts.

  • Color and mastering for digital cinema

https://cds.cern.ch/record/1704612?ln=en

  • Cinema Raw

http://proquest.tech.safaribooksonline.de/book/video/9780415810500

  • Color Correction Look Book: Creative Grading Techniques for Film and Video

http://proquest.tech.safaribooksonline.de/9780133818482

  • Color Management & Quality Output

http://proquest.tech.safaribooksonline.de/9780240821115

  • Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Directing the Eye, Creating Visual Depth, and Conveying Emotion

http://proquest.tech.safaribooksonline.de/9780133443851

  • Color Correction Handbook: Professional Techniques for Video and Cinema, Second Edition

http://proquest.tech.safaribooksonline.de/9780133435566

and the list goes on and on … if anybody has time and interest to look for positions concerning e.g. plot writing or production or so … just drop me a line with whatever you were able to find ;-)

I wish you great reading (and I already know what I’ll be doing in next weekends … ;-) )

Piotr

Latest club film now online: Poetry Café

PoetryCafe-4-3The final tweaks on the edit of Poetry Café are complete and you can see the results on Vimeo here!

Why Vimeo and not YouTube? The answer is quality. Vimeo has chosen to target the short film market by allowing higher quality video. The fund this by charging for different levels of service and restrict the free service much more than YouTube. For example, you can only upload one HD video per week with a free account. But this is no problem for us as we don’t make more than one film per week!

 

Documentary Filmmaking Course

Hi everyone !

As you may have heard, i have achieved a Documentary Filmmaking Course in Annecy last november. It was a 10 weeks course, very intensive. The purpose was to learn but also to achieve your own short documentary (approx.20min) within these 10 weeks.

Here is the trailer :

Here is the movie :

The place

Cinédoc gives courses but also produces its own movies. There are different kinds of courses such as the “Webdocumentary course” which looks very interesting too.

The trainees

We were 6 persons selected on file + interview. All of this was to confirm our motivations, know we’ll be able to follow and check that this course is suited for our career goals. Here you can check it : http://www.cinedoc.fr/formation.php

You can be sponsored if you’re selected (but only if you live in France…) or pay a fee of approx. 4000€

The training

The 10 weeks are divided in 3 parts.

  • WRITING

A teacher helps you figure out your subject and once it’s dissected and verbalized well enough (very cerebral phase…), you learn how to write a “statement of intent” or “note d’intention”. In this one to three pages piece, you explain why, how and  what you intend to show in your documentary (different than the synopsis). This piece is part of the booklet you send to get subventions from the institutions.

Then you’re sent to make your “repérages”, look for your shooting locations, structure the basis of your future movie.

  • SHOOTING

After a brief technical point, you learn how to form a frame. Not just aesthetically pleasing but which contains the director’s point of view. The question being : What do you intend to show ?

For example, we exercised on following people in the street (to get used to manually focus and iris light while moving), choose your frame on a still painting, show an action in 5 frames of one minute, show a tale in a unique take of max.5 minutes, etc.

After a few days, you’re sent to start your first real shooting called “Bobine 0″. You should come back only with rushes you mean to use in your movie. It’s a good way to learn to capture the essentials and not only record whatever shows up in front of your camera.

And then we had 2 weeks to film.

For my movies, i shot 7 halves days, meaning, 3 full days and a half with approx. between 1 to 2 hours rushes each time to finally end with a 18 minutes movie. So the ratio : 2 hours rush = 2 minutes film stands.

We were working as teams, 2 people working on each other movie as the sound ingeneer.

  • EDITING

We were also supposed to work as teams of 2 for the editing, the director giving directions to the other one manipulating the rushes. But the lack of time forced us to work by ourself as it goes much faster to edit yourself.

So we had one week and a half each.

Finally, we screened our movies to a full cinema room composed of actors, friends, teachers. The aim was definitely to learn how to make a documentary by yourself but having a finished piece also gives you a professionnal card into the movie industry. So that each one of us is now presenting its piece to Festivals. Who knows ?

Corridor Digital – CGI examples

If you are interested in CGI then check out the videos from Corridor Digital.  This amazing filmmaking duo of Sam and Nico are based in LA and they make mostly humorous short videos that demonstrate different digital effects and then release them on YouTube.  They also post a “Making of” for each one in which they explain how it was done.

It is quite intriguing because their productions are sometimes pretty large scale and often with lots of guns – they do a lot of action sequences.  And they make one a week which is extraordinary.  Anyway, they are very impressive and interesting if you’re into CGI.  Check out their YouTube channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/CorridorDigital

The “Making of” videos are on a separate channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/samandniko

They have over 1 million subscribers on YouTube and you can also find out more from their facebook page:

http://fb.com/CorridorDigital

Free technical tutorials online

Visit this page : Lynda.com, it gives really good essentials tips via free tutorials about technicals aspects of filming such as camera, audio and lightening.

All these tutorials below are free, for others you may have to become a member.

1. Getting Started in Video 18m 45s

Learning the craft of filmmaking 4m 47s
Exploring types of video cameras 9m 18s
Knowing what to look for in a camera 4m 40s

2. Camera Essentials 1h 1m

Learning camera anatomy 9m 27s
Exploring important camera settings 5m 52s
Understanding how to focus 3m 17s
Using tools to achieve better focus 6m 10s
Knowing when to use auto focus 2m 52s
Shooting with shallow depth of field 4m 46s
Understanding exposure 5m 5s
Using neutral density (ND) filters to correct overexposure 5m 0s
Using zebra stripes to accurately judge exposure 3m 26s
Using gain to artificially brighten an underexposed shot 3m 3s
Choosing the right shutter speed 4m 13s
Understanding color temperature 3m 6s
White balancing a shot 5m 2s

3. Moving the Camera 18m 25s

Choosing the right tripod 5m 27s
Understanding camera moves 6m 54s
Mastering hand-held shooting 6m 4s

4. Audio Essentials 29m 56s

Five sound rules to live by 7m 11s
Understanding the types of microphones for video shooting 7m 42s
Setting up microphones for a video shoot 6m 17s
Using a boom microphone 3m 23s
Setting proper audio levels 5m 23s

5. Lighting Essentials 35m 28s

Working with lighting instruments 9m 23s
Understanding lighting concepts 4m 13s
Creating a four-point lighting setup for a scene 12m 42s
Using corrective gels 9m 10s

6. Conclusion 9m 24s

Shooting for the edit 8m 20s
Goodbye 1m 4s

Network Storage

It’s an uncomfortable sight:


That’s the amount of space I have left on my main editing drive, a 2TB firewire 800 affair. My other editing drive is worse, giving the proverbial sardines a run for their money in the “tightly packed” stakes. I’ve even resorted to using my desktop drive (which we all know we shouldn’t use for video editing) and even that has less than 100GB available from a totoal of 2TB.

With so little space, the drives’ performance starts to suffer and of course you can’t add new footage. Time for some new drives, and large enough to cope with two or three big film projects and still have room to spare. With that requirement, you have to start looking beyond the usual Western Digital-type external drives you find in FNAC or MediaMarkt. With a budget of ~£1000 I was looking for 12TB of Network Attached Storage (NAS) and thought I’d settled on a QNAP 469 with four, 3TB Seagate SATA III hard drives.

But then I started getting a little jittery (that’s a lot of money after all). My editing machine at the moment is a 2010 iMac i5. Apple, being Apple, had put a below-par network card in this machine. It supports Gigabit ethernet, but not, amazingly, jumbo frames. I was a little concerned that without this support, the drive speed wouldn’t be as good as firewire 800, which is 100MB/s. I’d been reading on the internet that people were getting transfer speeds with NAS drives and this iMac of around 50MB/s which is not good enough for editing. So I started looking at a G-Tech G-Speed Q firewire drive. I didn’t really want to get firewire; the beauty of a NAS is that it connects to the computer over ethernet, so you can just set it up and forget about it, even have the unit in another room. A firewire drive would take up my sole firewire port and I’d have to watch where I put my feet so as not to pull out the cable.

So I took the risk and bought the NAS. I figured I’d learn more at least anyway.

Hardware Setup
Very easy this one. Insert the four hard drives, connect the unit to a gigabit ethernet switch (I use the Netgear GS108) and connect the mac to the switch as well.

RAID
I’m not an expert on how RAID works. All I know is that it allows you to link together several hard drives into a single volume and offers different levels of protection against data loss. If I was using a single disk and that disk failed, I’d very likely lose all the data. With a RAID however, that wouldn’t be the case, depending on what RAID level I’m using. I experimented with RAID 1+0, and RAID 5.

Checking the disk performance with Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, RAID 1+0 came out on top: a whopping 100.5 MB/s read/write. (Those fears about speeds were unfounded, but I think that what jumbo frames does is to take the load off the CPU in processing the ethernet data.) RAID 1+0 can survive two disk failures, as long as the disks are not adjacent to each other. The penalty is that the capacity is reduced to 50% of the total array size, so in this case I’d have 6TB available.

RAID 5 only uses one disk to store the protection information, so would give me a total of 9TB. The trade-off is that only one disk failure can be tolerated. If a second drive were to fail before you replaced the first faulty one, the data would be gone. There’s also a slight speed penalty; the Balckmagic app was giving me a read/write speed of about 94MB/s. I can live with that!

NLEs and NAS
Next step is to get the editing software working with the NAS.

FCP: No problem. FCP don’t care where the media is. Set your Capture Scratch folder to wherever on the NAS and it’s good to go.

Davinci Resolve: Little confusing this one. I navigate to the NAS and select a folder in the top level, but this only appears as “/”, the absolute top level of the computer. A test sequence sent to Resolve works, but first, in the conform window, I have to navigate to the NAS folder where the media is for Resolve to bring it in to a session.

ProTools: No problems here. Set the Volume to “Record” in the Workspaces window and it’s ready to go.

Avid: Heh heh, Avid. This one really does care where your media is and it has to be in the the Avid MediaFiles folder on the drive top level. Normally this is automatically created and normally Avid only likes network storage like ISIS, way beyond my current budget. And in any case, I’m only one editor, and ISIS is geared towards large post houses with several editors working on a project. Initially Avid didn’t recognise my NAS, but typing ALLDRIVES into the console window tells Avid to recognise every drive on the system as a media drive. This works but there’s an annoying feature that tells me Avid can’t save the project when I create a new bin or click Save. The project does get saved, so why this is happening needs some figuring out. Anyway, performance seems to be good for now and it’s very nice to see this:

Colour Grading with DaVinci Resolve: Overview

To complement Quentin’s workshop on colour grading, I thought I’d chime in with an article on my recent experiences grading a film with DaVinci Resolve. Whilst colour corrector effects that come with editing software are functionable and will improve the look of your film, to do more advanced and complicated work you need to look at stand-alone grading tools. (That being said, plug-ins from companies like Baselight could be starting to change that, but that’s another topic.)

Previously I’d done my grading work using Apple Color. This was an application included with the old Final Cut Studio; powerful, but had some constantly niggling features with the workflow. It was very difficult to get all the footage from the FCP timeline into Color and back again. Even more difficult when the footage was coming from a source other than FCP.

So I was very happy when Blackmagic Design released a totally free version of it’s high-end grading tool, DaVinci Resolve. Here’s a quick write up of my first full project with the software.

Out of Avid into Resolve
I’d edited the film in Avid Media Composer and there are three options to get the footage out of Avid and into Resolve:

1) Export an AAF (Advanced Authoring Format)
2) Export an EDL (Edit Decision List)
3) Export a Quicktime movie.

Option 3 can be used with the Scene Detection mode in Resolve. What this does is to analyse the Quicktime file for cuts and then chops the file up into separate clips to be graded. Not really ideal, but it can be extremely useful if someone just gives you a Quicktime file of their movie without the original source footage.

Option 2 is the classic way of getting timeline information out of NLEs, but is usually limited to one video track. So if you have multiple tracks in your edit you’d have to export an EDL for each track.

Option 1 is by far the best and the method I used. HOWEVER, frustrating experiences with Color still made me cautious and I followed the usual procedure before exporting the timeline which was to put all clips on one video track, remove titles and remove audio tracks. You would also remove any effects you had applied. Now, I’d applied some resizing and retiming effects to some clips, but completely forgot to remove them. It didn’t prove to be a problem though, as we’ll see.

The next step is to open up Resolve and import the AAF.

Through the dialogue box you can automatically set the project settings (frame rate, frame size etc.) and automatically import the source file clips. So what have I just done here? Basically, I’ve exported something that resembles a text file from Avid, saying what clips I’ve used and what portions of those clips I’ve used (the timecode), what I’ve done to those clips (effects) and where I’ve put them in my timeline. Sort of like a description of the edit in words and numbers. Resolve then reads this file, goes and gets the clips and puts them into its Media Pool. It then picks out the portions of the clips I’ve used and assembles them in the order I’ve edited them into.

Now this allows for a nice feature: doing a very easy online conform. For example, suppose we’re editing some RED footage at 5k resolution and the lowest compression. Not many of us own a computer powerful enough to handle that footage, even at 1/4 resolution. So perhaps we would edit with proxy files. These proxy files would be no good for a cinema release, so we’d have to somehow replace the proxy clips with the real high-res clips when we’re done editing. Resolve would let us do that, simply by unchecking “Automatically import source clips”. We would then put the high res footage into the Media Pool ourselves and Resolve would select those portions of the clips we used.

Back to importing our AAF. This is a nice screen to see:

Now, you can see it didn’t pick up the effects I’d applied to two clips, because they’re Avid effects and Resolve doesn’t support them. We’ll come back to those in a minute. For the time being, we’re free to grade! I’m not going to go into actual grading much in this article, but here’s a quick video showing how I graded a skyline in my film:

Getting out of Resolve
Now to get out of Resolve and into my finishing application (where we re-apply effects, add titles etc. In my case, it was Avid again) I rendered the graded clips and exported another AAF. I opened up this AAF back in Avid and my edit is there, but with the graded clips. And here’s the bit that really impressed me: those effects that Resolve didn’t show were re-applied back in Avid! I didn’t have to do anything. That never happened to me in Color…

There’s still a huge amount to learn with Resolve. I’ll continue to post whenever I find out something cool.

Apple Updates Mac Pro

Bah.

http://www.apple.com/uk/macpro/

So the first update to the Mac Pro in two years amounts simply to a processor upgrade and no more 8-core models. No Thunderbolt, no USB 3.0, the same, two-year-old graphics card… Most people see this as a signal that Apple will exit the professional high-end market. Looking at these updates from a filmmaking perspective, that certainly seems to be the case and I think a lot of Mac devotees are now bleakly staring at a Windows future.

First, we had Final Cut X which, to be frank, was a complete joke amongst most professionals (and compelled me to switch to Avid). In the first release, no XML export, no broadcast monitoring; these have subsequently been fixed but the damage was already done. Now Apple eschews the chance to put the Pro at the front of the queue when it comes to choosing a post production workhorse. The expectation was the latest Intel Xeon E5 chips, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt and better graphics cards. Why are these important? Well USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt are very fast (5Gbps and 10Gbps respectively) which means you can get to and from your media drives much quicker. Maybe that’s not a problem in large post houses, with shared network storage and XSANs. But the ageing processors and ancient graphics card are a problem, particularly with NLEs and grading apps that do a lot on the GPU.

What’s Apple playing at? Do they think the only important customer is the iCustomer, who wants their computer to do everything for them and who can easily transfer money to Apple with the swipe of a finger? It seems they’re now happy to leave the content creation to other PC manufacturers and just provide sleek devices to watch that content on.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook apparently says “Our pro customers are really important to us…don’t worry as we’re working on something really great for later next year”. That’s not particularly helpful for post-production companies and individuals who rely on these machines as a source of income and particularly where large sums of money are involved.

If what Cook says is true, I’m willing to bet that what he’s talking about is an iMac Pro. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, with a decent chip and graphics card, potential for lots of RAM, USB 3.0 and a couple of Thunderbolt ports. You could certainly edit on that, and expand storage and displays.

But, as with FCP X, has the damage already been done? Will pros now leave Apple en masse this year? And what are their options? You can build a very powerful Windows machine for less than a Mac Pro, which will run all the major NLEs very swiftly. And will we see Linux boxes more frequently in the editing room? Will Avid and Adobe build Linux releases of their software? If Apple are now a consumer-only company, that’d be my hope.